Cockburn, Joan Loraine Interview

Today’s date is 15th July 2022, and I’m interviewing Joan Cockburn. Joan, I’d like you to start by telling me a little bit about your own parents, possibly your grandparents as well.

Well, thank you for that. My grandparents … my grandmother was Irish, came from Northern Ireland, and my grandfather came from Scotland. They met when they came out here to New Zealand, and farmed in Gore and got married in the South Island. They had ten children, and my mother was the youngest of those ten, so there was twenty years between the eldest and the youngest, which made a big difference later on in life, getting to know them. I never met my grandparents; I never met any of my grandparents because they’d all passed away by the time I came along.

My mother actually married quite late in life. I have an older brother, Ross, and I came along five years later, so there was a big gap in the ages of all the family relations.

My father had put his age up and gone to the First World War to the horror of his mother, and they had a blazing row and he walked out and came to New Zealand; went straight to Gisborne to a shepherd’s position. If you can imagine a young man from London going to the isolation of the east coast of New Zealand … it would’ve been very difficult for him, although that was his choice. He did of course come down to Hawke’s Bay and worked in a menswear shop, and somewhere along the line met my mother, so that was the beginning of our family history.

Where did your parents actually meet, Joan?

Somewhere in Napier. Yes. There was a whole group of as you can imagine young people together and they’d go sailing on the Inner Harbour. And of course the earthquake changed all that; but they used to sail around Watchman Island I think it’s called – a little knob [that] sits up in the plain. And my father played cricket, and my mother used to follow sport; I think … well, I think all of the young ones, they just – as we used to do when we were young, and I think the young ones do these days to a certain extent – just hunt in a pack [chuckle] and enjoy life. Yes.

And what did your father do for a living?

Well when he came down to Napier he was working for a menswear shop called Parkers, which was in Hastings Street; complete menswear. And then he was a driver when they got married. And of course he went off – in the Second World War – he went off to Chatham Islands; he was posted. And I remember having a conversation with him, and he said that at the time the group that when to the Chatham Islands were quite disappointed; they thought they’d be seeing more action. But when they heard what Guadalcanal was like they were very pleased they were stationed in the Chatham Islands. So they were only coast-watchers, didn’t really see any action, and I don’t even think they saw any submarines or anything. But he spent the war on duty in the Chatham Islands and thoroughly enjoyed it, and made friends over there. He was quite keen on Gilbert & Sullivan and plays and that sort of thing, so I think he had quite a bit of fun with helping to produce different little skits in the Chatham Islands. And of course I never saw him in those six years of the war. When he came home he worked for Thompson’s Bakery – first on a motor bike and sidecar and then with a van – and if I was lucky I could go with him when he was doing the deliveries. And I think he delivered as far out as Clive. I used to think it was really out in the country. A different story now of course. [Chuckle]

And so they lived here in Napier for all that time?

Yes, we lived in Vigor Brown Street. The first five years of my life were in Westshore, and I started school at the Westshore School. All I can remember about that was they had the most glorious box of sand, all these toys in it; ‘cause I’d spent my life at that stage running up and down the beach and playing in the water. And I think we did that summer and winter, because it’s all I can remember about the early days. And then of course from there, 1939, we moved into Vigor Brown Street in Napier, and that’s when Dad went off to war. When he came back he was a delivery man for Thompson’s Bakery.

And so during that time when he was away at war, you would have started school?

Oh yes. Yeah, I went to Nelson Park School; thoroughly enjoyed that. I can remember VE [Victory in Europe] Day; our school colours I think, were red and black … but they were certainly red, and my aunt in Wellington had knitted me a red cardigan and I was very proud of this lovely red cardigan. And because I had a red cardigan, and about five other children, girls, had red cardigans, we marched in the front row of Nelson Park School; and we were the first school behind the band as we marched down Emerson Street in [on] VE Day, so that was quite a lot of fun. And my mother was working in Blythes at that stage, and [of] course all the staff were out on the street waiting for the parade, and they all screamed out, “There’s Joan! There’s Joan!” [Chuckles] So yes, [chuckle] that was the beginning.

It would be a very special memory I would think, that …

Yes. Well it was a lot of fun. After we’d finished parading down the street I think we just wandered the street; I can remember the streets were closed of course, and men and woman [women] were out celebrating the victory. It was quite a unique experience really.

And so when you left Nelson Park School?

I went to Napier Intermediate, and that was a big change for me – I look back on it now, and have said to many people that I think it was a big change for me because suddenly I was in the top class. And I had absolutely no idea that I had any brains at all or any ability, and here I was in the top class. And unfortunately, most of my friends were not. And my brother had not been in the top class, so I suddenly realised that I had more potential than what I’d ever thought about. I was only in the middle of the class of course, I was not that bright; but it made a big difference to me – I woke up to the fact that I could actually do things and achieve something. So I’ve always thought of Intermediate as a major turning point, and I think the Intermediate system – I know every now and again there’s the suggestion that we do away with it – but from my personal point of view it was an absolutely major change in my life. And I started playing netball … basketball as it was called in those days … outdoor basketball as opposed to indoor basketball. I started playing that at Intermediate and got into the school teams; did a couple of trips away playing for the school. Gisborne was one trip and Wanganui was the other trip. Unfortunately I was always travel sick so [quiet chuckle] … didn’t stop me going [chuckle] of course, and it never affected my playing so that was all right.

And then of course I went on to Napier Girls’ High School … started in 1948 at Napier Girls’. I took the Commercial course. I had never been a very good speller and I thought, ‘There’s no point in me trying to learn French or any other language, I’d be much better to learn Commercial’; and finally persuaded my mother that was the way to go.

I actually made the Hawke’s Bay netball team – nine-a-side in those days – when I was fourteen and in the Fourth Form; I think I only played about three games. The Hawke’s Bay Association in those days was pretty weak, and Hawke’s Bay wasn’t a strong outfit at all so it’s no wonder they were looking at schools to build up their players.

I did end up being a prefect at school, which was another surprise for me. My two friends – we’d been friends all our lives – were both prefects as well, so the three of us looked at each other when they called out the names, and didn’t quite believe what had happened. However, it did.

When I left school I went to work for the Land & Deeds Department, which was on the top floor of the Post Office … the old Post Office on the corner of Hastings Street. I worked as a clerk there and at one stage was in charge of the registration of companies. I worked there for five years; thoroughly enjoyed it. Very nice staff that were there, and looked after me as a young junior.

And as I developed I had responsibilities. I went down to Invercargill for two months, relieving down there because they were short-staffed and they wanted somebody that had some experience. So I spent the months of April and May in Invercargill, and I was quite pleased to get back home [chuckle] to the sunshine ‘cause we went to work in the dark and came home in the dark, so that was a bit hard – I certainly wasn’t used to that. And the staff there were very nice as well. Older and struggling a bit, because they had got themselves into all sorts of problems because they just didn’t have the staff to deal with the legal side of the Land & Deeds. It was a very interesting job actually, now that I think about it.

And of course I started playing indoor basketball. I played for the Williams & Kettle team; we put together my two friends and a few others, we made up this team and we had a coach; and we practised in Williams & Kettle wool stores. I played for them for five years, and I actually got picked for the Hawke’s Bay Indoor Basketball team, and I played five years for them as well. And that included tournaments in Palmerston [North] and Lower Hutt, and thoroughly enjoyed that experience. And as a sideline I actually coached the Blythes’ netball team at that stage.

So by 1957, enjoying the life as a single girl, I met this farmer, Alan, and in 1957 we got married so I went to live on the family farm in Waihau which was about thirty miles due west of Napier – dirt roads all the way, just about. The first bit of road that was ever tar sealed was the Rissington straight; it was about a mile of straight road, and it was the only piece that … well, it was the first piece that got tar sealed. The road up to Poraiti of course, as that was being subdivided and built on, that was tar sealed but that was the end of it – once you got over the Poraiti hill it was dirt all the way. So of course we never had clean cars; our cars were always dirty and my town friends would say, “Why don’t you clean your car?” [Chuckle] And I would say, “Well come and visit me and you’ll find out why.” [Chuckle] So … quite a joke. The other thing of course, was we always had to have decent, good, sturdy cars. We didn’t have little cars to run around in because the roads were so bad that you had to have a solid car to drive on them. And the roads were not particularly wide either, so it was quite common if you met another car you’d slide into the ditch.

And how long did that trip take from the time ..?

It took an hour. And of course it doesn’t nowadays, because the road’s tar sealed all the way to Puketitiri and most of the side roads are tar sealed as well; but in those days it took an hour, and if it was a nasty stormy day it would take longer. And it was not uncommon to find a tree across the road; always had an axe in the boot of the car, and a saw, [in] case it was needed to clear away branches. Never did have to do it but got close sometimes.

I enjoyed farming life, and of course it was always my job to look after the lambs that had been mis-mothered or lost their mothers, feeding them. And of course we would feed them five times a day, making up bottles of milk for them so it was not unlike having children. And of course I had four children, so between feeding children and feeding lambs and feeding a husband, it was about all I did [chuckle] at that time of the year.

In the summer time it was a little bit different but we were hay making, so had to feed the hay makers that came. And fortunately I never had to feed the shearers; in the early days they stayed up on the farm. We had a shearers’ quarters built for them … fully [self] contained for them, and they brought their own team and all the rest of it. And then as the roads improved they came up by the day, so they would have a very long day shearing from about eight o’clock in the morning until half past four in the afternoon, and then travel home again. Shearing is very exhausting work. My husband could shear, but we got professionals in to do the main shear which was generally about a week and a half’s work. It was about eight hundred and sixty acres we had, which was all reasonably flat, we could drive all over it; there was one paddock that was a bit steeper than the rest, but it was [a] beautiful farm … just tucked in under the Kaweka Ranges, but it sloped away from the mountains so it sometimes missed the worst of the storms.

I, of course, joined the Patoka Country Women’s Institute – now called the Women’s Institute – and that met once a month, and if I was lucky I had the car so I could go to it. Meetings were held in Patoka, and of course we lived in the area called Waihau. It was a marvellous institute for women; of course in those days you didn’t have television. You had a phone line that didn’t work very often and when it did there were ten people on the line, so you had to wait your turn; and our call sign was short-short-long, so … you hear all the other calls but nobody was ringing you, so it was … Looking back on it now the Institute played a major part in not so much my life, because I came from that farming background of my grandparents; but certainly some town women who married farmers found it very hard at first, but Women’s Institute kept us interested … kept us informed on what was happening.

And then in about the seventies the Puketitiri Golf Club started, so that was about a half hour’s drive, three-quarters of an hour’s drive out from where I lived. And there were six other women in the district and none of us had played golf before. So we all started, as did the men and as did most of the district; there were very few who’d ever played golf before. So we had [a] pretty good sort of time. A couple of them dropped out because they just found it wasn’t their cup of tea. But because we had decent sized cars we could get six lots of golf gear in the boot of the car; then off we’d go and play, thoroughly enjoy ourselves. And I ended up at one stage being club captain for a couple of years up there, and much to my amazement I won the Junior Championship one year, and came home very pleased with myself and said to the family, “I’m the Junior Champion.” And my girl said to me, “Gosh Mum, how old do you have to be to be a Senior?” [Chuckles] So that deflated me, [chuckle] and serves me right for pretending to skite about something. [Chuckles]

And what was it like for the children at that time? Where did they go to school?

They went to … actually we were fortunate that the Waihau School was open. They could’ve walked there but I never liked the fact … country roads; sheep trucks on the roads; narrow roads, the drivers weren’t looking for school kids. I always took them by car and picked them up after school; and I’d pick up the neighbours’ kids as well and take them all to school. The school’s well and truly closed now, of course. It was used for a while as an outdoor pursuits programme but that faded as well. But we all chipped in and built a swimming pool for the school, so the kids learnt to swim there. We were fortunate – when we moved from the cottage that we went into when we married, down to the main house, and built a new house there, we put in a swimming pool as well so our children always learnt to swim, which a lot of country kids of course couldn’t do. But once we got the pool at the school then of course everybody could learn to swim.

So it was a busy life, but a good life?

Oh, very busy life; pretty full sort of life, yeah.

I was asked to be an Elder of the Presbyterian Church. We used to have church services every month – one month would be the Anglicans, the next would be the Presbyterians, then the Roman Catholics – I think they had the first and third months, I think – they had two months anyway, of taking services, and they had theirs in the morning; the Anglicans and the Presbyterians had theirs in the afternoon. And of course we could go to any church we wanted to, it was always open, but we generally stuck to what we were used to, but there was a good feeling in amongst it all.

And that was held in the Patoka Hall which had been built by the returned servicemen. The Patoka area itself has developed after the war, in particular by returned men. The area where we lived in the Waihau – it was off to the left of the main road – was an older established area, so although there were about three returned men there the rest were second generation farmers, or third generation. Alan was actually a third generation farmer on the family farm.

I was also appointed a Justice of the Peace, because there were none up in the country at that stage. And Roger McLeay was our local MP; [Member of Parliament] at that stage we were part of Waikaremoana electorate, which seems absolutely ludicrous … so far away. But it was suggested to him that he appoint a couple of JPs ‘cause there were none in the whole of the district at all; the nearest one was of course in Taradale. And for some unknown reason, probably because I gave him a good meal when he came to visit, I was appointed a Justice of the Peace. I’ve retired from all that work now, but I did enjoy it when I was doing it, and of course was far busier once I came down to town.

What got me started of course in Red Cross, was the Waihau/Patoka Red Cross. We met once a quarter in the Patoka Hall in the evenings, and some of the younger men – or I should say husband[s] and wives – who didn’t have a family at that stage, both of them would come to the meetings. We would learn first aid and bandaging and a few other things as well. So from there I would go to meetings in Napier which were more formal Red Cross meetings, and then that developed to go to meetings in Wellington where the annual conference was being held, and I would go one year as a delegate for the Hawke’s Bay region, or Napier as it was called at that stage; we then became Northern Hawke’s Bay. I’d go [as] delegate one year and observer the next, so that I could follow their debates and see the developments that had happened. And in 1982 I was elected to the Red Cross National Executive; was one of twelve people with the president and a chairman and a treasurer, so there were fifteen of us altogether; I was the only one from Hawke’s Bay. And that was a real education and a stretch of the imagination in many things, in many ways.

Our children had all gone to boarding school of course – they had to once they became teenagers. The three girls went to Iona and Peter, our son, went to Hereworth because his father had gone there, and then to Lindisfarne.

But our second daughter won a Rotary scholarship to South Africa for a year, and when she came back we stayed in touch with some of the parents over there … some of the host parents. And they invited us to go to South Africa; so we went for probably a month long trip. We had help on the farm; we had a young shepherd, and he was capable of looking after the farm in the off-season. So that was our first trip away. And of course we went to Victoria Falls which was absolutely amazing, and saw a little bit of Zimbabwe but not a great deal. South Africa was still in the apartheid years at that stage, so we were very careful what we did and what we said; but thoroughly enjoyed the trip and thoroughly enjoyed the country, and were amazed at the history of it all.

About 1985 I think, was Live Aid, and Red Cross was going to be one of the recipients of the money that had been raised; so I was down at a meeting in Wellington. And nearly all of the executive were going to be going home to take part in the Live Aid appeal, and of course Wellington was hit by a storm and we couldn’t get out. And I was talking to two other ladies, one from Taupō and one from Auckland, and I said, “Well, if we get a rental car I can drive to Taupō; and hopefully my husband can come across and meet me in Taupō and we can spend the night there and go home next day; and I can still get to do my duty for the appeal.” So apparently, according to the chappie we got the car off we had the last rental car out of Wellington, so they told us; I’m not sure whether that’s true or not, but we got going, if you can imagine it. Fortunately the storm did not go all the way up the North Island. But it was late at night, driving on the Desert Road, and I looked down at the speedometer and the petrol gauge and it was registering empty; and I didn’t dare tell the other two – I don’t think they ever knew that it was registering empty. And I thought, ‘I hope I get to the bottom of this, ‘cause I know there’s a petrol station at the bottom.’ Fortunately we did, and the petrol station was open; fortunately it was an all-night one. So we filled up and managed to get into Taupō, and dropped one woman off at her home in Taupō; went back to the bach which was out at Four Mile Bay. And my husband’s car was there, so that was good – he was home and the house was warm, and he’d made up the beds for us which was wonderful. So my friend from Auckland spent the night with us, and then the next morning – she’d never driven an automatic car before, so I took her round the block to give her a lesson of how to drive an automatic car. And she thought she’d got the hang of it, so she took off to Auckland and I took off back with my husband to Napier; and we all managed to do our stint on Live Aid. I can’t remember how much we took now, but I know Red Cross did pretty well out of it.

In 1985 I had stood for Chairman of the New Zealand Red Cross, and I didn’t succeed in that position. I wasn’t too fussed about it, but enough people came to me and said, “Why don’t you run for president?” So in 1986 I thought. ‘Well, why don’t I?’ So there were four of us, there were two men and two women that stood for president. I have no idea what the figures were, but I do know that I won that election and became the National President of New Zealand Red Cross for the next six years. I was re-elected each year – it was a yearly election but you could only do six years at a time. And that was fine because by the end of the sixth year I was – I suppose now thinking, I was probably quite burnt out actually; but I was certainly tired because it involved a lot of international travel. But the thing that has always stuck in my mind was the fact that the first woman president of New Zealand Red Cross was Helen Lowry from Hawke’s Bay, in very early times … in 1931. And for the next fifty years there had never been another woman president, so I was actually the second woman president for New Zealand Red Cross.

At the same time I took off for a meeting in Geneva with the Chairman and the Secretary-General. So the three of us went off, and New Zealand was elected to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and we were elected to the Executive Council. I understand nowadays that the person is elected, but in those days it was the Society that was elected and because I was the president, which meant I was head of delegation, it was my job to sit on the Executive Council. And that was a four year term and we met every six months in Geneva; so I was hopping on a plane to Geneva. Fortunately we sold the farm and I had more time at that stage.

But the 1986 conference in Geneva was a very dramatic conference because the African Societies and governments in particular were getting very fed up with South Africa with their apartheid ruling, and the South African government was expelled – not the Red Cross – the government delegation was expelled from the conference. This was driven by the African governments; they were determined to make a point, and they succeeded. It’s the only time it’s ever happened – it’s never happened since, and it was never directed at the Red Cross movement at all. It was because it was an international conference, and the international conference comprised delegates from the Red Cross Societies and Red Crescent Societies, and the governments of the country; you could not have a Red Cross Society in a country if the government had not signed the Geneva Conventions. So the first step in all of this was for the government of a country to sign the Geneva Conventions and then you could have a Red Cross Society or a Red Crescent Society. The African countries never aimed their attack on the Red Cross at all, but of course it was a Red Cross conference. They attacked the government, and to be quite truthful all hell broke loose, and I can remember very late a night ringing our national headquarters in New Zealand and saying, “Don’t talk to the press – we’re not going to say anything until we get home and then we will explain the situation.” And of course the press in every jolly country was trying to get hold of the story and wanting to know and make a big mountain out of it, and we were determined that the correct story would be told. So our staff at national headquarters … I suppose they were put under an awful lot of pressure by the local media … but they held firm and stated what was obvious, but gave no further information than what they could or what was necessary. So – we survived that and nothing like that has ever happened again.

Joan, it’s been a huge commitment, the Red Cross, so if I had to ask you what is the inspiration … because I know you still keep an interest in it … what is it that keeps you attached and committed for so long?

Well I think it’s the seven principles; it’s the humanity – we don’t look at where you come from, what the colour of your skin is, what your education is or anything – we go where the need is. The New Zealand Red Cross has a very good reputation for the delegates we [who] serve overseas in hospitals and nursing situations. I had the experience in one trip to visit the refugee camps in Hong Kong, and they were very good camps I have to admit, but there was nothing for them; there was a little amount of schooling for the children but there was nothing for the adults. Those ones in particular were the boat people from Vietnam when the war was taking place there. Hong Kong accepted them, they didn’t turn any of them away, but they did say to the rest of the world, “We’ve done our bit – you’ve got to help us; you’ve got to start taking some of these people.” And that message was rather slow getting through. Other countries were not keen, of course. We took a lot here in New Zealand, but in comparison our contribution was small when you think of the numbers that were there. But visiting those camps and seeing those people made me realise what a vital role Red Cross plays in the world, and I suppose that’s why I’ve kept going. I mean what I do now is pretty minimal, but by keeping things ticking over in this part of the world it means that we’re a stronger society in the worldwide picture. But it has been a commitment but it’s been a good commitment; I’ve never felt stressed out by it, and I’m not sure that I’ve been that brilliant in what I’ve offered, but my heart’s certainly in Red Cross.

We were invited to the Red Cross Society of China and there was quite a discussion as to whether New Zealand Red Cross should go or should accept the invitation. My feeling on that was that we needed to support the Red Cross Society of China because in the riots that had taken place in Tiananmen Square earlier in the year, the Red Cross had set up a first aid centre about two blocks away from Tiananmen Square. They’d done it quietly, there was no press aware of what was going on; but word got round to the protesters, those who were injured, that there was help round the corner if you got there. And I thought it was very brave of that Red Cross Society of China to do something which … they didn’t necessarily have any support, but they’d done it. They’d done exactly what Red Cross should do. So we accepted the invitation to go and visit the Red Cross Society of China and an interview was organised with one of the vice-presidents of the Chinese government. And he of course stressed the situation in Tiananmen Square; and we just said to him that we congratulated the Red Cross Society for what they had done; and “How proud you must be of the fact that they had abided by the principles of Red Cross”, which is neutrality and impartiality, and of course voluntary service. So I think we made a point there, and I know that certainly those people respected us very much.

We had a [an] international meeting – not a full conference but an international meeting – in Rio and we were stationed at a hotel on the beach at Rio … absolutely beautiful wide sandy beaches. You didn’t go swimming in them though, because there was an oil slick along the front of it. I couldn’t understand coming from Hawke’s Bay, why we couldn’t go swim in the water but they very quickly told us, “You can walk along the beach but don’t get in the water, ‘cause it’s full of oil and grease and not very nice at all.”

And then the next full international conference I went to was in Budapest. These conferences were generally held every four years. And they had just come out of the communist era and they were finding their feet, and they wanted to hold the international conference there as a boost, I think, to the people around them. But fighting broke out on the border with Yugoslavia, and it was pretty unpleasant; and the Hungarians wanted to get down to the border and keep their borders free, and get their Red Cross people stationed there to look after, if necessary, any of the wounded. There weren’t actually, but the international conference was actually cancelled because of that situation, and of course we all flew home again. But Budapest had such an interesting history; an old European city … a beautiful old part; on the other hand a newer part, and I distinctly remember, we felt perfectly safe walking round the city. In a little side street we came across a pile of metal and a wheelbarrow stuck in it; it had solidified. And obviously they’d finished work on the Friday and gone home and didn’t come back [‘til] the Monday [chuckle] but this was stuck on the footpath, fortunately, not on the road. I didn’t get a photograph of it; I’ve always regretted [it] every since, but I was careful not to take too many photographs.

However, one of the meetings I went to … I mean, they were very serious meetings, but by the same token some of the financial sides of it was pretty jolly boring. And the Australian delegation was seated about five rows back and we were about the second row from the front; and I get this note down to me saying “We’re running a sweepstake as to how long this debate’s going to finish, [go on] and would you like to pick a time?” And this piece of paper had a list of times on it, and there were other entries in it and names in it. And I didn’t have a clue what time we were going to finish, so I think I put down ten past seven at night, sort of thing; gave it back to the Aussie guy to take back to the rest of his delegation; thought nothing more of it. The prize was to be an Australian Red Cross tie, and I put a note on it to say I don’t really want a Red Cross tie but I’d quite like a cold Aussie beer. [Chuckles] And of course the Australians, being Australians, couldn’t bear to be beaten by a New Zealander, and certainly not a woman. So next morning on my table when I sat down was this cold Australian beer wrapped around with a serviette. [Chuckles] But most of the time everything was very serious. [Chuckles]

But we had sold the farm in 1987 and moved to Te Awanga, to a small block of about forty acres, so of course I was not required on the farm to feed lambs or calves or look after anything else, so I had the time to spend … to give to Red Cross. I took the opportunity to visit as many Red Cross centres in the country as I could. I remember coming back from an international meeting one day and taking off to Tauranga the next day … driving up to Tauranga to meet with them there. I went across to the King Country and met people there, and at Taupō and Wanganui, and I even went down to Invercargill – they’d invited me down there at one stage. I didn’t drive down there. But I visited as much of the country as I could because I knew that – with better transport of course, we could get around the country – but I knew that the previous president who I absolutely respected and admired had not got out of Wellington very much at all; he lived in Wellington. And I knew that the branches and the centres wanted their officers to come and see them so I made a point of getting round as many as I possibly could. It was quite funny – when I went over to Taumaranui they said, “Look, we’re part of a group that have set up this children’s playground, and there’s a dolls’ house and we’d like you to open the dolls’ house.” So of course I did, I opened the dolls’ house; and it’s the only house I’ve ever opened and it was a dolls’ house. And it’s still there. [Chuckle]

I couldn’t get to Hokitika; I couldn’t get out of Wellington on one of the visits I was supposed to make because of a storm; I couldn’t even get to Christchurch, and then trying to get across to Hokitika … so I had to cancel that. It was a really typical Wellington stormy night, and I was very disappointed that I couldn’t get across to them because the Coast … well at that stage it felt isolated; I think they still do to a certain degree. But my six years were up in 1992, so I said goodbye to that part of Red Cross, but of course have remained active, as you know … still here.

And at that time the Hawke’s Bay Power Consumers Trust was being set up and the first election was being held, and I must admit I didn’t know too much about it but I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to have to do something’, so I put my name forward; a group of people asked me to. And I was elected; the term was for three years. I did two terms and I was elected deputy chair for the last two years of the six years that I did. I could’ve done a third term, but I decided that [as] we all came on together it was not good for the Trust itself for us all to go off together. So one gentlemen had had to retire because of age – and that was changed later on – and the former chair said he would stand down. And I said, “Well I’ll stand down too”; so that meant that two of us went off, and two of the originals stayed on, so you had that continuity in the Trust which I thought was very important.

And of course at the same time I was still doing JP work, and I became president of the Hawke’s Bay Justice[s] of the Peace. And that was a two year term, and I think my biggest contribution to that was updating the constitution which hadn’t been updated for years, and still talked about ‘he’. [Chuckle] I persuaded them that perhaps the better term these days … not ‘his/her’ or ‘he/she’, but ‘their’, and we managed to rewrite the whole constitution and got that passed. I might add it’s been updated several times since then, but these things sometimes take an awful lot of time.

So in 1992 of course, on the farm out at Te Awanga; it was a lovely spot. It was on the side of a hill; we had a fantastic view looking straight back at the hill of Napier, and at night it was all of course lit up, and we would see the moon come up, bouncing up out of the sea. I don’t think I ever got up in time to see the sun come up but certainly saw the moon. And we had my third daughter’s wedding at that place; had a big tarpaulin set up and had the wedding at home. There was a games room at the end of the house … it was a long thin house … so we took everything out of the games room and had the piano there, and we danced the night away and had a wonderful wedding; sent the two of them off on their happy marriage.

Our son, Peter, came home from London for the wedding and was obviously ill at the time. I said to him that if he stayed home I’d look after him, but I couldn’t possibly look after him if he got ill in London because by that stage Alan wasn’t well either. So he stayed home, and in 1993 he died of AIDS; so I was pleased that I’d been able to give him as good a life as I possibly could.

But we sold that block of land because Alan was no longer capable of doing anything in the farming world. He really couldn’t look after the dogs, so we moved to Taradale where I am now, and haven’t moved from there. And in ‘95 of course, Alan died, so … been here ever since.

He died in early ’95, and very late in that year friends were travelling, and they invited me to join them on a tour to South America. And I thought, ‘Well why not?’ So off we went to South America where I had never been before apart from one conference, which means you don’t do any other sort of sightseeing. And we flew to Rio, stayed overnight in Rio, then went by bus – picked up the rest of the tour group – to Iguazu Falls, which are [an] absolutely fantastic sight. You can hear them long before you ever see them. We went south to Buenos Aires, and Montevideo and Argentina … there were ships in the harbour there … and west to Santiago. That’s in Chile on the coast; and north to Arica which was right on the border with Peru, so … fantastic trip.

But of course it also gave me the travel bug, and got me interested again in travelling so I went to Hong Kong and Singapore and Los Angeles. My daughter and son-in-law by this stage were based in London, so I went over there for about six weeks. Didn’t want to stay with them for the whole six weeks ‘cause I thought probably they’d get very tired of me, or I’d get tired of them, or both; so I did a side trip to Ireland and had a lovely trip, meeting up with a lovely Irish girl from Auckland who travelled with us. We stayed friends for a long time actually, corresponding. As you can imagine in Ireland – it’s such a beautiful green country and we actually struck very good weather most of the time. From London the family did a side trip to Paris for the weekend; and daughter and son-in-law and myself went to Israel, staying in the kibbutz along the way. And that was a very interesting trip as well, totally different from anything else that I’d ever done before. It was a little bit tense at times, but it wasn’t too bad and we never ever did anything foolish. But staying in the kibbutz was interesting because a lot of them didn’t speak English. There was [were] all sorts of languages spoken, but not English, because they’d come from all around the world as you can imagine, so it was an education as well.

The family then moved to Canada, so that gave me a base in Canada. So I did the east coast down to New York, and I did a trip round Vancouver, and a wonderful trip round Alaska where I was fortunate enough again to travel with very nice people. There were about eight, I think, single woman [women] travelling, and we all teamed up and had the most wonderful time. And of course it was in their summer time, and it’s still daylight at half past eleven at night, and it’s light again about four o’clock in the morning, so [in] many ways it was quite exhausting because we didn’t go to bed at the normal sort of time, we didn’t get up at the normal sort of time. We made the most of the daylight. The northern part of Alaska is … you know, very … wooden buildings and wooden pathways so that when it does snow you can sweep the snow off and that sort of thing. So it’s a totally different world altogether, but it was a wonderful trip. We decided that when we got down to Anchorage we’d quite like to hire some little planes – the little planes took four people – and fly over the area. So we hired two planes; and then the men heard about us hiring planes, so they jolly well decided they weren’t going to be outdone by us woman, [women] so they hired a plane as well. So three little planes were flying around Anchorage, you know, and it was absolutely wonderful. Because they’re only small planes you were quite low; you could see the lay of the land and all the inlets, and it’s absolutely wonderful to do that.

One of the other occupations that I had at this stage was the marriage celebrant; that was a lovely position that I had. I was interviewed for it by the head of the Courthouse, and I’d known him because of my JP work; I had done some work in the Court as well, sitting on the Bench. And we had a little chat; he did know me anyway, but he said, “Well you know, really we’ve got plenty of marriage celebrants.” and I said “Well that’s fine, I just thought it was something I could do. That’s okay, I don’t mind.” That was the end of our conversation, and I thought nothing more about it and went home. And about a couple of weeks later I got a letter in the mail to say I’d been appointed a marriage celebrant; so he was obviously testing me to see what my reaction would be. So I had some lovely weddings in lovely gardens around Napier, Hastings, Hawke’s Bay, Poraiti. There are some beautiful home gardens that you just don’t know about until you get the opportunity to do this, and of course lovely couples. The services were what the couple wanted; I never imposed any wish on them apart from what was legal necessity. Such nice people, and I was very happy to take part. Some of them were quite big weddings, and the smallest one was just the five of us – the bride and groom, the two witnesses and myself – in a little wood tucked away, and it was just a beautiful setting and I could hear the birds singing as we were taking the service; so that was rather a special one.

I also joined a group called Speaker Forum which was a woman’s [women’s] group run by a Hastings woman, and I helped her from time to time. The aim of it was to bring women to Hawke’s Bay to speak to women’s group[s] about topics that were of interest to women. It was not a men’s group at all, although on one occasion we had the head of the prison who was a woman at that stage, accept the invitation to speak to us. And unbeknown to us some prison guards decided they would come; so when they arrived we said to them, “This is a women’s forum; it’s not for men. You can sit at the back and just keep quiet.” [Chuckle] And they did. [Chuckles] I think they were suspicious of what was going to be said by their boss, and there was nothing for them to worry about at all. And they got up very sheepishly when she’d finished and went home. [Chuckle] The only other occasion … at the Century Theatre, we had a group meeting there, and two women turned up with their husbands. And I was on duty at the door on this occasion, and I said, “I’m sorry, but your husbands can’t come in.” And they were a little bit offended by that; and I said, “Well it’s a women’s forum. Our speaker knows she’s talking to a group of women; she’s not expecting any men. It’s your decision.” So they looked at each other and the women said, “Well you go off to the bar, and we’ll only be an hour.” [Chuckle] So the men went away with their tails between their legs, and the women went in and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was only two occasions where we had any sort of problem.

I was a foundation member of the Pania Toastmasters which I thoroughly enjoyed. We met at the Masonic Hotel and had a lunch meeting there. The Masonic Hotel were very good because they always had a simple menu for us which could be produced very quickly for the hour because everybody was coming from their offices and that. I thoroughly enjoyed a totally different cross-selection of the population and the interests and the topics that we covered. You all took a turn of having to run the meeting so it was a learning curve for everybody, which was the reason for the whole organisation. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. I don’t belong now, but I certainly enjoyed that time.

What I do now of course, is I belong to the Taradale U3A [University of the Third Age] and I host the book club that belongs to that, so every month the book club meets here, and [an] amazing variety of books that the club actually read[s] … very seldom have we ever read the same book. Now and again there might be two, or not more than three, have read the same book although having said that, when we talk about a good book and it’s our own book, we lend it to the others and they read it as well. But it’s a follow-on process.

But I virtually joined the U3A first of all to gain some computer skills because I’d bought a computer and decided I better know how to use this jolly thing properly, not play around with it and not use it. So that was the beginning of my venture into U3A, and it was very useful to do that course with them. I learnt a lot, much of which I don’t use now but at least I can use a computer reasonably well.

So I now really have retired; but I have a Sunday group which I belong to and thoroughly enjoy, and that’s always stimulating and you never quite know what’s going to happen there … what topic’s going to be discussed. I’m still involved in Red Cross and the book club, and I also belong to a lunch group where we got out on somebody’s birthday and go to different places for lunch, although over the last little while that hasn’t been possible, but up until the close-down of everything we would try all sorts of places for lunch. There was only ten of us in the group, so it was a [an] easy number to manage.

But that seems to keep me quite busy.

Well thank you Joan, it’s a full and interesting life and what a huge contribution to the community you have made. Thank you very much.

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Interviewer:  Jan Dearing

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